Photo of a wild flower surrounded by hikers

What are crowdsourced photos taken along hiking trails telling us about the climate?

The Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile route that stretches through California, Oregon and Washington, is fraught with the effects of climate change. Hundreds of miles of trails have been closed in recent years due to wildfires, and heavy rains threaten to erode trails and fell trees.

Could trails on the other side of the country meet a similar fate? The impact of climate change on New England trails may be more subtle, but they’re there, says recent Northeastern graduate Graceanne Piselli. As part of her work for the U.S. National Parks Service, she helps to identify the signs, thanks to thousands of crowdsourced photos of wild plants.

“If climate change is impacting the trails, it’s largely impacting them by the diversity of plants along the trail and how those plants are surviving,” Piselli says. “We’re seeing if the stages of their life cycles are happening on time, or if warmer temperatures are causing spring to come earlier, or if it’s coming later.”

Piselli, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, is no stranger to looking at how climate change impacts outdoor spaces. As an undergraduate, she did her co-op at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center, where she worked in the outreach department and did her capstone project on how climate change is impacting, and will continue to impact, the multi-billion-dollar ski industry in North America and Europe.


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Photo by Bill Uhrich/Getty Images

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